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The Sky's the Limit

Ted Lucas Solo

Senior citizen fulfills lifelong dream of flying

By Cheryl M. Keyser and photos by Ted Lucas

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return." —Leonardo da Vinci

Dreams of having the freedom of birds have excited man since the earliest days. The ability to soar above the ground, roof tops, fields, and seas has long been a desire which did not find its fulfillment until the Brothers Wright made it possible.

A similar dream inspired a local young boy at five years of age. He felt that same need to rise into the skies, penetrate the clouds, travel unfettered by earthly limitations. It was a dream that took 67 years to fulfill–but that is the wonder of today, that such a challenge can be achieved at the age of 72. And statistics show that he is not alone.

There has always been a concern about older pilots, who choose to continue flying. This applies mainly to commercial pilots as they are now required to end their careers at age 60. However, there is a proposal on the table to increase this to 65. Supporting this and the ability of someone to fly into their 80s is a study from the American Academy of Neurology which found that "older pilots performed better over time than younger pilots on flight simulator tests."

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there are close to 5,000 pilots over 80 who are still taking to the air and although the number of student pilots age 80 and over is much smaller at 140, it just shows age in not a limitation. In fact, there is an organization for pilots over 80 years of age, known as the United Flying Octogenarians.

Ted Lucas of Chambersburg was that little boy who felt that passion to take to the air. It was a dream reinforced by his plane ride at age 12. In a sense, his was an inherited sentiment, for his father was also fascinated by aircraft. The local Franklin County Airport in Chambersburg was where the two could bond during their time spent plane-spotting. At that time, it was located in the eastern part of the county, surrounded by farmland.

The drive to feel the wind under his wings soon manifested itself in related interests like tinkering with model airplanes in the 5th grade, moving on to radio-controlled planes, flying model airplanes, and learning to become a ham radio operator. The fascination with taking to the air was matched by his interest in electronics, which drew him to work as a service technician at Sunrise Computers for a time.

“I have often said that the lure of flying is the lure of beauty,” —Amelia Earhart.

“I took my first flight lessons in 1963 in Shippensburg. I was ready to solo, but the airplane was fabric-covered, not metal, and it did not pass its exam,” Ted explained. In 1974, he joined a group of friends for a flight, thrilled to be occupying the passenger seat to the right of the pilot.

And then as it so often does, life intervened. Ted spent the next several years teaching chemistry and physics, two of the more challenging sciences. He started his first job in Chambersburg schools, later moving on to Mercersburg and Penn State Mt. Alto, finally retiring in 2002.

Some 20 years ago, he also decided to correct his vision with Lasik surgery, which has proven to be a blessing; he still has 20-20 vision in one eye and 20-15 in the other.

“At first I did not consider getting a license. I was worried that I had waited too long to try as it can take years of study and practice,” recalls Ted.

Last year, he finally decided to make his dream come true and began his flight training at the Hagerstown Flight School. Now, he not only has a pilot's license, but also has his very own plane. His aircraft is a 1967 Piper Cherokee 180 C, one of a line of planes started in 1960. (The 180 indicates the horsepower.) Although the Piper Cherokee is considered to be a very safe aircraft, it still must be inspected every year.

Where is he headed now that he has wings? “The first trip will be to Myrtle Beach where my brother lives,” and then on to Ohio at the urging of his son. The ultimate goal is a flight to Oshkosh, Wis., home of the Oshkosh Fly-In, a week-long experimental aircraft show. It is the biggest show of its kind in the world, with over 10,000 planes, including 747s.

As Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of "The Little Prince," and a pilot, said when he wrote of his love of aviation, “I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things.” In that spirit, we wish Ted many years of high-flying enjoyment where the cares of life are left far below.